Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Other

A concept we learned about in my Global Poverty class (and high school history classes previous) was that of the "Other." Not the kind from the Nicole Kidman movie, although it does have a great plot twist, but the kind that's important in colonialism, development, and our conception of ourselves.

We tend to define ourselves as individuals and as a society by what we are not. We are civilized. What does that mean? It means we are not savages. We are modern, because we are moving beyond tradition.

It was a large part of colonialism. Imperialists (mainly Europeans) defined themselves as modern in comparison to the "native" people of the places they occupied. There had to be a standard for comparison. The native culture was to be kept in its traditional, "pure" form, as though in a museum.

The same thing occurs today with development, with anthropological and sociological studies of other countries. Unless you are originally from that country (and even then sometimes, because you are entering in a professional capacity), you see the place from an outsider perspective. You look at the differences between yourself and them, you other-ize the people whom you are studying or helping, because that's how you remember who you are. Wherever there are differences, unfortunately, there's a hierarchy.

One of the places this is most evident is in the status of women in the West. According to Lila Abu-Lughod, "it has been accepted that, at least in the modern West, women have been the other to men's self."1 That's where feminism comes in, of course. "Feminism has been a movement devoted to helping women become selves and subjects rather than objects and men's others."

There are still difficulties, principally in the differences in experience between women in various situations, but the progress the movement has made is undeniable. The small things, the way men unconsciously (or consciously) see and treat women, however, are still there. I think that's because men still define themselves as not women. Men are not supposed to be girly, they can't cry in public, stay-at-home dads get less respect, etc. But all of those characteristics are social constructions anyway, so hopefully we can get rid of this divide.

The same applies in development work - if you're going out somewhere to help people in a "less developed" country, don't assume they're backwards. Don't assume their culture is unchanging. Don't assume they are completely different from you. Because they aren't.

1 Abu-Lughod, L, Fox, RG (ed). (1991). "Writing Against Culture" from Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present. School of American Research Press.

Testing, 1, 2, 3

*Taps Mic* *Screech* Argh, feedback!

Okay, no, not that kind of testing.

I'm changing my feed reader settings a bit, so this is a test post to make sure it goes through. And if you haven't subscribed, I added a nice bright orange button on the right over there. -->

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Like Black Friday Minus The Shopping

I was strolling down Bancroft a few days ago, when it was still raining. Intramural signups were set to begin sometime the next day.

Intramural sports are pretty popular at Berkeley. Limited teams + 25,000 undergraduates = difficult to get in.

As I passed the RSF, I saw a long line of tents under the overhang. These were all people waiting in line to sign up for an intramural sports team. Camping out! In the rain! Ridiculous.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sleep Is Worth It

Sleep is important. When I haven’t gotten enough sleep, I still manage to do pretty well in school. After getting plenty of sleep this break though, I realized just how big the difference is. It takes so much less effort to get to a higher level of quality. And I feel so much more like myself than I did last semester. I mean, I knew this, but I can’t believe I haven’t been doing it.

Monday, January 25, 2010


You know what I like about the rain? You can just put your head down, under the (somewhat flimsy) shelter of your umbrella, and not worry about making awkward eye contact with the people you walk past.

But then the situation gets awkward again when you have 3 or 4 people with umbrellas going down a path about 2.5 umbrella-spans wide.

Then you’ve got to bust out your fanciest umbrella maneuvers to get past unscathed.

 Okay, so this is not quite real, if you didn't guess. Peter Funch's other artwork is pretty awesome though, check it out.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Teiresias, the Blind Seer

Boring through the deep blue sea,
His eyeless gaze next turned on me.
"Your future," said he wond'ringly,
"Will not be carved by destiny.

"Your choices come from your own will,
'Tis you who must do good or ill.
Most do not possess this skill,
But you shall make the world stand still.

“It all depends on your desire –
Turn vicious war into cease-fire?
Finish quick, relax, retire?”
“I think my path is to inspire.”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Colorful Kites

Let’s go fly a kite,
Up to the highest height!
Let’s go fly a kite
And send it soaring!

This is what I said to my friend a little over a week ago on Sankranti (I would've sung it if we weren't typing to each other). Unfortunately, it was already almost dark, we were here in America, and at least a 40-minute drive away from each other to boot. But last year at that time, I was in India in the winter during Sankranti for the first time in over 12 years. It was then that I flew my first patang. More than flying or fighting or even chasing kites, though, I simply loved the festiveness of the day.

Colorful kites in a shop in Lucknow (from Wikipedia)

Friday, January 22, 2010

And How Am I Going to Have Time for This?

I ran into a friend of mine today who used to be on the ballroom team with me (before our year’s mass exodus, during which I quit).

Anyway, he’s facilitating a Salsa DeCal (1-2 unit class taught by a student), and doesn’t have enough followers. And… I basically got roped into assisting.

So even though he knows I don’t actually know much salsa, I am going to be helping to teach the class. Oh boy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Oh, Nature...

This morning, I dashed through waterfalls, skirted around lakes, and even waded my way across a couple of rivers.

A fantastic adventure indeed, had they all not been on my route to class. It was raining hard, and I, alas, was stuck without rain boots.

My folded-up pants decided to act as rain gauges, catching the wind-blown rain. They then proceeded to remain soaking wet for hours.

At least I managed to avoid the hail?

Now or Never?

Have you ever heard the saying "Live in the moment"? Of course you have. But you've probably also heard from your parents or other elders that you'd better "start thinking about your future."

Huh. So which is it? What are we supposed to do? There's plenty of arguments for both sides, but as usual, it's all about balance, and about following the right advice at the right time. I mean, if you're thinking about the future all the time, there's no meaning to life. If it's all about the destination, rather than the journey, then
  1. You won't know what to do when you get there.
  2. You won't know what to do if you don't get there.
  3. You're wasting the majority of your life. It's like going on an airplane and never looking out the window. Unless you're afraid of heights, though I'd hope you're not afraid of life.
 At the same time, a lot of society's problems seem to be a result of short-term thinking. Beyond imagining jet packs and flying cars and hubristic scientists managing to destroy the world, we don't consider what the world will be like even 20 or 30 years in the future.

Joel Pett, USA Today, 12/7/09

Politically, there's a lot of problems that need to be solved. A lot of them need solutions now. But in the same way that people only think about aiding the poor of foreign countries - or even their own! - during an emergency, I think people get too hung up on quick, visible results. We look the other way as we pass the burden of even bigger problems on to future generations.

Thinking about the moment is great for your personal life. You've got to enjoy it while you've got it. But when the decisions are ones that affect all of society, we need to think about the future. We have to be creative and innovative and look outside what we would normally do. There's bound to be a solution that may not be quite as effective in the short term, but will help (or at least not hurt) in the long term. As I said, it's about balance, about compromise. We've got to stop cheating on the scales by adding extra weight to the short-term side.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Big Change

I was talking today with a friend who spent about a week of his winter break on a service trip. He went to the Honduras with Global Medical Brigades to help deliver medical care to rural areas. He asserted that it was in fact the best week of his life.

The one thing he said that stuck with me, though, was about how UC Berkeley really is unique as a foundation for change. The people on the brigade came from various majors, though many of them were, like me, in the Global Poverty & Practice minor. And they all managed to raise money and supplies, go somewhere where help was needed, and do something to change both their own world and that of the people they helped.

You look around here, in America, and where do you find names from Berkeley? Well, it's a prestigious university. They're teaching as professors, arguing the law in their own firms, heading biotech companies, making money as venture capitalists. And maybe you actually see more people from Ivy League colleges in those positions.

So where are they? A large portion of the people running the Global Brigades programs were Berkeley graduates.They're not quite so visible as a Harvard-educated President or a pair of Stanfordian internet entrepreneurs, but they're out there working on improving the lots of people whom we the privileged continually forget.

They have counterparts in organizations around the world. They're the ones who are going to bring about the Millennium Development Goals and save the environment one plastic bag at a time. And they learned it here, they either gained or strengthened the drive to help here, at Berkeley. It's amazing to think that these people I'm meeting, my friends and classmates, will soon be out there making the difference themselves, and bringing Berkeley's spirit of social change to the world.

A Little Change

I started doing the 75 word thing for 2 reasons:

  1. I need to work on saying things more concisely.
  2. I’d be more likely to post something every day.

Often, though, I feel 75 words is not enough. I know I could write longer posts. Unfortunately, I’ve been somewhat lazy.

So with the beginning of the new semester, I’ll continue the short posts, but I’m going to try to replace some with longer ones as well.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Spring Semester Has Sprung

I am back in Berzerkely!

Winter break has finally come to a close. For once, I wasn’t bored by the end, I suppose since I had multiple adventures – Tahoe, Avatar, Wicked (!), actually meeting up with friends and extended family...

But now, it’s over. The semester starts Tuesday. I always take classes I like, so I’m looking forward to it.

First, though, I have books to buy, Japanese to review, and some work to finish.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

In the News

Overturning the same-sex marriage ban is the civil rights movement of my generation. I’ve been following it since the original proposition.

Thing is, I’m straight. But having grown up in California, I have more than a couple friends who are not.

I feel bad every time I think this, but it feels like the Haiti earthquake is upstaging the fight for equality and non-discrimination. But even I know saving lives is more important.

Donate, please.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Contact Inhibition

Naked mole rats never get cancer.

Their contact inhibition mechanism is more sensitive, which means they stop dividing more quickly when they touch nearby cells.

But so many factors are involved in cancer development that I think the real difference is that they have two contact inhibition mechanisms. A backup ensures that losing a single gene isn’t enough to knock out the whole pathway and allow hyperplasia (overproliferation of cells, the first step towards cancer).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

50 Words on the Rocks: Short Stories to Sip On

The 50 Words Project inspired this blog format, and over at WEbook, its leaders have compiled the best submissions from the first 25 challenges.

Go on over and check it out.

There’s humor and horror, chills and thrills.

Some are simple jokes, stories that stand on their own.

Others could be the basis of an entire movie.

Plus, there’s 7-8 of my own stories hiding in the last several chapters if you care to search.

3 Tickets for 3 Idiots, Please

Aamir Khan was definitely too old to be a college student.

That aside, 3 Idiots was a fun, feel-good movie.

It’s based on Five-Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat, right? It was popular in India a couple summers ago, I think, since I borrowed it from my cousin.

According to another cousin (who goes to IIT), the book was pretty realistic. I’m just glad the message about there being education beyond rote learning is being spread.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Long Day...

I’m too tired to write anything meaningful today. Not sure I usually do anyway...

I’ve been up since 5:30, on my feet for most of the day, getting people registered for the symposium and making sure everything stayed organized.

I somehow became head volunteer. I guess because my dad and I arrived first? Or because I actually knew the situation with the name badges? Or because people want someone to tell them what to do?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Some Words About Word

I just learned about Word’s “mail merge” feature today while helping my dad print name labels for 150+ attendees at tomorrow’s (can’t tell the name) symposium.

You write out the part of your label or letter or envelope that is identical for everyone, add some chevron-bordered fields for their names, addresses, etc., and Word fills it in for each person from a database/table.

I never needed to do this before, but now I know how!

Friday, January 8, 2010


Today, for the first time, I almost won at Monopoly! Lost at the end, but put up a good fight.

I usually lose first. This time, however, I managed to get a monopoly on the red properties and later the railroads, which kept me alive.

Data taken from Truman Collins' ridiculously detailed work.

I also landed almost exclusively on my own properties when I traveled. I once rolled three 10s in three turns, jumping from railroad to railroad and avoiding all hotels. Lucky!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Big D Development

I didn’t have space to say this in the last post, but since taking my Global Poverty class, I’ve really disliked the label of “developing” countries.

It suggests that there is a linear scale of development with a clear end, and these countries haven’t reached it yet. The goal being “developed” Western countries, of course.

Why does the pathway have to be a skyscraper? Can’t it be a tree, with multiple branching routes to success?

If Glasses Could Give You Back Your Life

My mom picked up last July’s National Geographic from the library. I was flipping through it and came across a couple paragraphs on a new technology that had me completely dumbstruck:

Adaptive eyeglasses.

The lens is two sheets of plastic with silicone oil in between. By adjusting the amount of oil, you can change the focus of the lens. No prescription glasses for each person! And they’re cheap, for developing countries. Just imagine the possibilities...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Sound of Language

Spoken English sounds ugly to me (though I’m a fan of the written). That’s partly a product of hearing native speakers of American English butcher the sounds of other languages.

It’s not their fault though. With age, the brain becomes conditioned to ignore small differences in sound, probably because it makes understanding your own language more efficient.

Then, of course, there’s the difficulty of actually moving your larynx, tongue, lips, etc., to reproduce the sound…

I Saw Sherlock Holmes Yesterday!

I wasn't expecting much. I mean, Holmes is supposed to be tall and lean. He has to stoop all day when he disguises himself.

But it was surprisingly funny. I loved how well Holmes’s eccentricity was portrayed, and the witty banter between Watson and Holmes was not only hilarious, but illustrative of their connection. And the eye candy didn’t hurt. ;-)

Man, two movies in a month. That’s more than I usually see in 6 months.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Commercial Breaks

Of late, my roommates and I have noticed a trend of increased advertisements for alcohol in TV commercials. There could be multiple reasons for this:

  • Maybe they really are playing more alcohol ads.
  • Maybe the channels we’ve been watching lately (mostly USA, I think) have more ads.
  • Or maybe we’ve just been noticing them more lately.

I’m most inclined to believe the last one, even though I’m not yet sure why it might be true...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Time Management

Sorry if my posts are sparser throughout the holidays. I tend to stay away from things like texting and the internet when I’m supposed to be spending time with family and friends.

This time, though, it’s because I finished something like 3.5 books in the last two days. In fact, I apparently was not spending enough time with family. I miss reading, but I’m satisfied now, so time to go back to talking to people.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Years Resolutions

Happy New Year! I’m not making any resolutions since apparently 88% of New Year’s resolutions fail (source is in the link).

Apparently, humans can’t manage using their willpower for multiple things at once. So the best bet would be to only work on one problem at a time. But I don’t think that’s for me either.

Instead, I’ll do what I usually do - fix it whenever I find (or remember) a problem with myself.